UWE domestic abuse service wins Attorney General's pro bono award

Issue date: 11 April 2011


Law students from the University of the West of England’s Bristol Law School have won a prestigious Attorney General’s award for a free service offering legal support to victims of domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Support Service (DASS) was launched in November 2010 by trainee solicitors, barristers (supported by GDL and LLB students) at UWE. It has already dealt with eighty-five cases, obtaining not only non-molestation and occupation orders for victims but also assisting with the commonly connected problems of custody and access to children. It is currently dealing with approximately six cases a week.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, announced the winners at an afternoon tea reception recently at the House of Commons.  Student representatives of the DASS service attended and found out they had won top prize for best new student pro bono service in the annual LawWorks Attorney General Awards.

Grieve said, “These awards celebrate a group of law students who in spite of their busy academic or postgraduate studies have shown a strong commitment to pro bono work.  By doing so they are continuing one of the finest traditions of the legal profession.”

DASS offers free legal advice and advocacy services to the victims of domestic abuse in collaboration with domestic abuse support agencies in Gloucestershire. Currently two clinics are held weekly in central Gloucester with additional ad hoc appointments in urgent situations. It is anticipated that the advice clinics will be extended to three other locations in Gloucestershire in 2011, in Coleford, Stroud and Cheltenham. The success of the service has led to a request to extend it to victims of abuse in North-East Somerset.

Law lecturer, Stephen Migdal, who set up and supervises the service said, “The 32 members of the DASS student team have been fully trained in client care, the preparation of applications and affidavits in support and court procedures relating to emergency domestic violence applications. As an illustration of the extent of the service, in the seven working day period 7 to 17 January, DASS students obtained six court orders: two ‘without notice’ non-molestation and occupation orders; two ‘on notice’ non-molestation and occupation orders and two interim residence orders.

“Public funding is not freely available and many victims cannot otherwise afford to pay. Very often, emergency without notice applications are required in the first instance for which solicitors are quoting a £1,000-£1,500 minimum fee. Furthermore, child residence, contact and abduction issues often arise in conjunction with violence within the home.”

In 2009, 8,500 incidents of domestic abuse in Gloucestershire were reported to the police. It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of domestic abuse is reported to the police as there is a marked reluctance by victims to use the criminal law against the perpetrators. There is a significant need for legal assistance in seeking civil orders.

So far, the cases dealt with by the UWE team include non-molestation and occupation orders, port alert procedures to stop child abduction, ‘seize and snatch’ orders to recover children from ‘vanishing’ fathers and emergency interim child residence applications on behalf of both mothers and grandmothers.

More entries for the Attorney General’s Awards than ever were received this year, with a total of 152 submissions. The judges included Lawyer 2B’s editor Husnara Begum, LawWorks trustee and former director of BPP Law School’s pro bono centre Kara Irwin, head of academic development at LexisNexis Tom Laidlaw, and the vice president of the Law Society of England & Wales John Wotton.

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